A FILM OF EPIC PROPORTIONS.
When I went to college I didn’t exercise and I had far too many meals at a local McDonald’s, eating what you’re supposed to eat when you go there (no salads). I gained weight. Everybody knows that those are the consequences. I wouldn’t dream of suing McDonald’s for what that food did to my body. Some people have gone to court though, and that’s what inspired documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock to do a little experiment and turn it into his first feature film. It’s an interesting movie, but not without problems.
In 2003, when Spurlock did his experiment, McDonald’s was a much unhealthier place than it is today. There were very few options on their menu that were good for you. The point of Spurlock’s experiment was to show that if you only had food from the restaurant’s menu every breakfast, lunch and dinner for a month your body would suffer. The experiment was to take place within the context of worldwide (and particularly American) obesity as a major and very expensive health crisis. McDonald’s has a special place in this drama because of its crushingly prominent status among fast-food chains; they really should take some corporate responsibility and that was the reason why Mickey D’s was singled out by Spurlock.
But his experiment has its flaws. He decided not to exercise at all during his McMonth, he consistently ate the unhealthiest parts of the menu (preferring regular Cokes over Diet Cokes) and came up with a rule that said if he was offered to super-size his meal he had to say yes. Very few people are likely to take the same diet in real life. Still, Spurlock did prove how bad the food was; doctors and nutritionists who supervised the experiment were shocked at how fast his health declined and begged him to stop. He didn’t and it took him 14 months after those 30 days to regain the health he enjoyed prior to the experiment.
Making people want to eat more
Following Spurlock’s tribulations during his grease diet is very engaging, but the truly weighty part of the film consists of other ingredients. The filmmaker decries the food chain’s habit of referring to their customers as “users”, which only serves to underline the fact that McDonald’s meals are carefully constructed to make people want to eat more than they need to; the more of all that sugar and fat you devour the more you’ll want, just like a drug addict (my college buddies and I did come back for more all the time…). The world is saturated with fatty food and people keep getting hooked on it. The super-size option is the very symbol of how obscene some of our culinary traditions have become.
The most upsetting part of the film is when Spurlock visits a school cafeteria and shows what kind of food the kids are getting – French fries, chocolate bars and Gatorade. That’s because it is cheaper to hire a company like Sodexo that pays lousy wages and spends very little money on quality.
The director works in the tradition of Michael Moore, making himself the star and driving home his point with a lot of humor. His ultimate reward? McDonald’s has become quite a different company since this film, now serving a variety of healthier meals. They say it’s not because of Spurlock. Right…
Super Size Me 2004-U.S. 100 min. Color. Produced, written and directed by Morgan Spurlock.
Trivia: Followed by Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken! (2017).
Last word: “Ever since making the movie, I can put on four or five pounds in a weekend so easily. Its incredible how my body has kind of lost its resiliency. Part of that comes with age, but it also comes with your body having all these additional fat cells that weren’t in your body before. As you create fat cells to store fat and you lose weight and those fat cells get smaller, they don’t magically vanish. They are still in your body, still swimming around waiting for you to overeat so they can store more fat.” (Spurlock, Civil Eats)